There are gaps in Labor’s plan to scrap WorkChoices and bring in new IR laws that will put at risk collective bargaining rights for working Australian says the ACTU.

While the new system outlined by Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard this week will help restore many rights for workers that were taken away by the former Howard-Costello Government, there are still major areas of concern.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said today:

“A strong and independent umpire is essential for collective bargaining to work.

“Unless the new industrial umpire, Fair Work Australia, has enough power to settle disputes employers will be able to frustrate negotiations and prevent workers from achieving a result.

“Extra power for the umpire to settle disputes will be particularly important to help workers in low paid industries, including many women, who have previously been disadvantaged by their limited access to multi-employer collective bargaining.

“Also, restrictions proposed by Ms Gillard on the scope of what employees can bargain collectively with their employer are unnecessary, unfair and outmoded. Why should there be any limit on what workers and their employer can bargain and reach agreement about?

“The new IR laws need to create a framework for collective bargaining that is relevant to the modern economy.  Employees have a legitimate interest in discussing with their employer a wide range of issues, including how to save energy, reduce waste and support climate change solutions in their workplace.

“One of the major problems with the Coalition’s WorkChoices laws was the red tape for businesses in complying with complex restrictions on the content of workplace agreements.

“It would be unfortunate if Labor were to prevent workers from negotiating innovative solutions to workplace issues and add to red tape on business by artificially limiting what managers and employees can agree in employment arrangements.

“Collective bargaining could also be adversely affected by Labor’s proposals on so-called ‘unprotected’ industrial action. There will be times – such as when factory closures or redundancies are announced – when workers will want to stop work to consider the implications.

“Deducting four hours pay is unreasonably harsh and could lead to greater work disruptions as there will be no incentive for workers to return to work for half a day.

“We are also concerned that the Labor Government is out of step with community opinion on the issue of unfair dismissal. A recent national Galaxy poll indicated around two in three respondents believe workers in small businesses should have the same protection from unfair dismissal as other workers.”

Ms Burrow welcomed Labor’s proposals for greater protection from discrimination for workers who stand up for their rights in the workplace or who represent their work colleagues as a union delegate.